Colleen sent us a very appropriate question about being a self-employed parent: how do you make sure you aren’t neglecting your kid, job, and life in general when you don’t have traditional hours?

Young Woman Blogging, after Marie-Denise Villers I’ve been a working mom since my daughter was seven weeks old. I love working almost as much as I love my now three-year-old, but since starting my own business, it’s so hard!

Self employment is a different monster: you don’t have hours, you don’t just leave work at work (and I try!). Honestly, I’m secretly looking for a self-employment mama friend to vent with, but the internet is good for that sort of thing too!

How do you incorporate your children into workdays, or not overworking yourself so you can enjoy your family when you get home?

Comments on What are the pros and cons of being a self-employed parent?

  1. Oy I feel your pain! It can be very hard to manage all the boundaries. I don’t think I have any advice…I just do the best I can!

  2. OMG, ok, of course I have some major opinions on this one!

    While I love the flexibility that being a self-employed mostly work-from-home parent grants me, there is no denying there are are major trade-offs.

    That hardest part for me is the ignoring-my-kid factor. Theoretically, Tavi can say “Yay, when I’m hanging out with Papa, Mama’s still here toooo” … but I’m not really HERE. I’m working, which means sometimes the end feeling Tavi gets is “Mama ignores me.” I work outside the home a day or two a week, and I feel like, while it’s sad that I’m not home to check in with him while he’s hanging out with Papa, in some ways it’s easier for a toddler to have the working parent be out of sight out of mind. Sometimes it just feels like me being in the bedroom working just pisses him off.

    And then there’s setting boundaries with time. HARD. Super hard. I work 50 hours a week, and it’s generally between 7-11am and 7-11pm.

    A couple months ago, we decided as a family that I had had HAD to take one full day a week off from work. And so now every Saturday, the Empire goes dark and we have family times all day long. It’s a good thing.

    That said, despite the challenges … I don’t think I’d trade them for the challenges my 9-to-5 mama friends have. As hard as it is to feel like I’m ignoring my son, and to try to strike a balance with my own workload … I love that if I’ve had a particularly hard night with Tavi, I can take a break from work and nap. I couldn’t do that back when I was working at Microsoft.

    (Well, ok: sometimes I’d nap at work there too. But only on my lunch break, I swear!)

    • I just started thinking about doing the one day off no matter what…. but it always seems to be taken over! I do think that is a great idea though. Hopefully it works out soon!

  3. I love love love this question also!

    I can echo what Ariel said — it’s much easier on Jasper if I’m out of the house working. In fact, I CAN’T work at home when Jasper’s awake, even if Sean is with him, because Jasper always finds me and wants to hang. The only way I can ever come close to pulling that off is if Jasper’s eating, because then he’s content.

    I usually work during naptime (1pm-3pm) and at night (8pm-11pm/12am) to get everything done. I also work on-location as a photographer, so those hours are all over the place. I work outside of the home at our studio/office once a week, for five hours, and I’m about to start bringing Jasper another day, for three hours. We’ll see how that goes!

    I also want to say that even when it can be hard, I also wouldn’t want to trade my hours in. I love getting to hang out with Jasper, and I love our schedules–like Ariel said, if I have a hard night, Sean is home in the mornings until at least 11am, so I can sleep/read/chill.

    • also, I am totally marrying self-employed (my photo biz) and work-from-home (Offbeat Mama). Just a fyi.

    • I work primarily at the studio (since my only computer is there) and on location. I bring Maggie (3yr) to the studio with me, so she knows when we are at the studio it’s “work time”, but I still feel bad being like “Here’s another movie!” haha.

      I try to make the studio a fun place for her to be, also. I work everyday (Mon-Sat, sometimes Sun), so then I don’t have to work long days… it’s just, I guess I haven’t hit my “stride” yet.

      Hopefully I get some inspiration from all the comments here! 😀

  4. I just said to my partner the other day that since I started seriously working on my business, I work All. The. Time. I don’t know how to take time off yet. Especially since so much of what I do is Internet driven, I can work every hour of every day. I am lucky that this year both my kids are in school so I don’t feel that pinch like I used to. Am curious what summer will be like. Need to find a balance before then.

    • I would totally recommend getting into some kind of time routine NOW, so you’ll be used to it by the time summer rolls around — for us, I’m always with Jasper and focused on him in the mornings. Every morning, from 8am-12pm, is Jasper time (even the ones that I sleep in on, because Sean has him). Then we do naptime, and I work, and then afternoons and evenings are Jasper-and-family focused, so that he and we get everything we need. It kind of sucks to work late at night every night, but I prefer it to trying to work during the day at Jasper’s expense.

      It also REALLY helps that I have a phone that has internet, because I can moderate Offbeat Mama and handle a lot of emails that way throughout the day without neglecting Jasper or anyone else. Handy device!

    • Daycamps! They’re not only great for your schedule, but they can be totally awesome as well. When I was a kid I went to Zoo Camp and Botanical Garden Camp and they were some of the most educational, and entertaining, experiences of my youth. It’s not in everyone’s budget, but it might be worth looking into.

  5. This is extremely helpful advise.

    My husband and I both work right now, but in August, maybe before, I won’t be able to work this nine to fiver I have (which is fine with me!) However, to bring in some extra cash flow, we both have been focusing on my art and illustration business. It has been difficult now, with just the two of us, both working full time getting the bare essentials all ready and set up to go. It’s just a lot of paper work, and updating, and marketing. And then there is the actual creative part (which I love). I feel like I work all the time (the day job and my business). Though, I must say, without the help of my husband, who is a marketing genius and has alot of connections and organizational skills that I am not so privy too, the set up has been easier… and hopefully so will the transition.

    Time management is something I want to get wrapped around my head now so I don’t come crashing down again with the stress. Since I have the time now, I’m building up my product so when I do need the down time (which will happen when our little water baby is born) at least my husband can keep that going for a little while until I can get back up on my feet again.

    Stephanie, I am really glad you posted this. And Ariel, I love your input. I’m so grateful for you all. <3

  6. Oh my, where to start?
    I have run my own business since I was about 17. I am now 38 (just!) and I have been with my now partner and his daughter for just under 2 years.I dont have kids of my own. My partner also has bouts of bad sciatica which render him incapable of being the runabout dad.Daughter spent 3 days a week at her mums when we started out, which wasn`t too bad, but we now have her full time.
    I work from home nowadays, selling clothing via the internet, and finding time to actually sit down and sew with very limited space is nigh on impossible!
    I try cutting out when she is in bed (because the machine keeps her awake)and sewing after I do the school run in the mornings. It`s trying to ignore doing housework or my own stuff that is the hardest part.And sometimes I get really frustrated when I`m on a roll with a new design, and I have to pack everything away to cook the dinner!I just tell myself it won`t always be like this, she will get older, but when we were at a festival doing the stall last year, she actually said “can we go camping and not take the stall some time?”. Oh the guilt. What to do?

  7. I just started a business from home, but it works(even with 3 kids) because my husband works from home too! The kIds understand there’s “working” time & “family” time. Even our 20 month old says “shhhhh daddy working” lol not to say tho there isn’t ALOT of struggling, crying (from me haha) & long exhausting nights…it’s all about balance!

  8. I own a small ice cream business with my sister, and I find that my son ends up being “dragged” around a little bit. While that adds to my mommy guilt sometimes, I always remind myself that my son is learning so much by watching me make a living by working my butt off doing something I absolutely love! I try to make everything a lesson in life, in money managing, in ice cream testing (it’s a dirty job!), while still making it fun for him and incorporating him into the process as much as possible.

  9. Learning to set a strong boudary and pick a time/day to SHUT IT OFF was key for me. I started working from home in 2007, before I was a mom and right out of the gate I was overwhelmed with the need to work round the clock. It just never stopped and I realized it wasn’t going to unless I stopped it. So I learned to pick a “closing time” each day (changes from day to day) and turn both the computer and blackberry off at that time. Whatever happens after that time will wait until the next day, just like when a store closes. The same goes for my one day a week off. No computer, no smartphone, no work. It ain’t easy, but I do it!

    Now that I’m a mom, my “business hours” have shifted and I work later in the evening like the others mentioned, but closing time is still closing time.

    Additionally, once my kidderoo was up on her feet, I got her into a part time pre-preschool program, which was a tough decision but the best I’ve ever made. She gets all the benefits of the time and stimulation of being with other kids/teachers, as well as the benefits of being at home and I get more work done. Part time care was a win-win for me!

    • Shut-off time is such a good way to balance things! My husband is running a start up and I haven’t been able to get him to do this yet. Once things get more settled I definitely want to enforce this.

    • Yeah, I’ve definitely started feeling like our family might benefit from some part time pre-school care … Tavi because he’s a super social guy who loves being around other kids, and his parents because we need the time, too!

      • For us, it turned out to be one of those “what took us so long?” decisions. On the day we went to tour the school, Little Miss (then 15mos old) toddled right away from me and up to a class of 18 – 24 month olds and started playing. I was shocked, but I knew right then I couldn’t give her that kind of socialization at home and that she clearly would thrive on it. Now she’s 18 months and gets so excited to see her little friends each day. It’s very cute and makes me feel great.

        I’m so glad to have had the time at home with her when she was an infant, but as a toddler, I truly feel this is better for her than being home all week. And I am blessed to be able to do the part time thing – it really is the best of both worlds for all of us.

        • Going off this pre-school idea, I definitely support it! In Sweden, women receive a year off from work in maternity leave, and when the baby is about 18 months old, they start what we call “dagis”. It translates to daycare, but it is much more like pre-school. Kids will stay in dagis until they start kindergarten. They go 5 days a week, typically from 10 am to 3 pm, which gives the parents time to work and what not.

          I love that system. It’s done wonders for my niece’s social skills, and she’s talking more than I am, these days. *:P

        • I would definitely recommend child care for any working mom whether at home or out of the home. Even if it’s just for a few hours a day, it will benefit them in ways you really can’t imagine. And you get the added bonus of some free time to yourself! My fiancee is a pre-school teacher, and both my kids are lucky enough to attend where he works. They’ve both been in full time childcare since they were pretty young, although with my first, I was lucky enough to have a job (nanny) where I was able to take her with me. But now, she is ready to start kindergarten this fall, and because she is 1 – very well socialized 2 – very academically prepared, I have no qualms about it whatsoever. I’m not knocking sahm’s who prefer to keep their kids at home, that has it’s merits as well, but for moms who work from home, putting your child in a social/education environment even if just for a few hours a day can be a huge benefit to you and them.

  10. Finding time to continue freelancing from home with a 6 month old is quite the challenge for me. Most of my working is also done during nap time and sleeping time (now that I can swim in caffeine again…) but actually phoning with customers, elaborately discussing the details for their texts (with little owlet in the background, wanting all the due attention), is not easy to balance at all since dh is off to work the usual business times.

  11. When I go back to work in a few months, I get to keep my Wednesday work-from-home day, but I’m trying to figure out how I’ll actually get any *work* done with a baby in the house. I’m thinking I might have to have her with Grandma that day – I don’t think it’s realistic to imagine I’ll be able to focus on work for 8 hours, and it has to be during the 9-ish to 5-ish range, too. Since my hubby is WFH on Wednesdays, too, at first I thought we’d be able to manage between the two of us, but now I think probably neither of us will get anything done. Great question!

  12. This is such a great question because I think a lot of families strive for self-made, at-home businesses when kids enter the picture. Who wouldn’t want to do what they love while watching their babies grow? But it is a struggle. Right now, my husband owns his own company and I “stay home” with our daughter. It’s been difficult to balance the demands of a job that never ends, a recurrent theme for self-owned workers, and a family life that requires so much attention. For us, we take it week by week, literally looking at the calendar at plotting out when work tasks and home tasks will be accomplished, when I get a break, when he gets a break. And while he tries to stay on a 8-5 schedule, again, he could be up all night working on something and often is which can leave our relationship in the pits. With my desire to return to work and to work for myself starting to enter into the picture, things get even more complicated. Whose job gets preference when there are only so many hours in the day and a baby and home to care for? So many balls! I’ll definitely be checking back on this post to see how others manage.

  13. Oh this one gives me so much guilt. My mother was self-employed while I was growing up. She ran a few booths at different craft and antique malls and when I was in high school she opened up her own store.

    I constantly felt ignored although now that I look back, she was always around when I needed her and now we are extremely close and I’m not sure we would be if she wouldn’t have worked out of the home so much when I was growing up.

    • See!? That’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s so hard … despite the flexibility that self-employment affords, the “I’m ignoring you right now because I have to work right here in front of you” thing is really hard for kids.

      Then again, it was hard for me when my midwife mom had to run off at 4am to deliver other people’s babies (as a child, I LOATHED BABIES because they took my mom away) … so maybe it’s just sorta hard being a kid sometimes. 🙂

  14. Oh oh, and here’s a tip: if your work involves computers, you can use http://www.rescuetime.com to help you keep track of how much you’re on your computer, and how you’re using the time. It’s been really helpful for me in keeping my working hours down and efficient. When I saw myself pushing 55hrs a week (and KNEW that 10hrs of that was “fuck-off time”) I knew something had to change.

    • OMG, I have never heard of this brilliant invention and will be signing up right away! (Is it cheating if I set it to recognize time spent tooling around the Offbeat Empire as work?!?)

  15. Great article and comments. Luckly my massage business is part time and my homework is only some of it. Its still really hard to make that part a priority. I need to learn more about business stuff, do lanudry, keep books, email cleints, track referal and packages, keep up with news in the field. My plan is to do more tracking of my hours both home and work. The best thing recently was going out with friends all day and we ended up staying over. This relived the I never get a day off feeling. B/c being at home weekends often invole projects and what not. That means I keep doing house work on the weekend, cause it never ends.

    • aw i’m just thinking about starting up my own massage buisness aswell and trying to figure out how i’ll handle that along with a 2 and 1yr old. part time preschool is def going to be something i start looking into now.

      • i don’t think i could do it except that my studio owner is amazing and I feel like she is so good at running the studio that I am really spoiled. It is a lot more work to run your own business and earning a smaller percentage can be totally worth it for less business work to do your self. I do both so i’ve research all these trade offs a lot.

  16. I had a similar experience with having a baby and going to grad school. When my girl was little, I was working on a low residency MFA program–independent study at home with 2 weeks every six months away at school. Even though I was home all day, I did almost all of my work at night or during nap times until at 18 months old she decided there was no more naptime. Ever.

    One hard thing I learned was to really focus and give my attention to whatever I was doing at that moment. If I was working, I had to give up control of all baby-related disasters to the other parent. If I was playing with my girl, I couldn’t be thinking about my dissertation. I also noticed that I got more time to work if I dedicated a certain amount of focused time to the family. I think that day off idea is really important!

  17. I basically built my business around my children. I started teaching strollercise classes when they were babies, and as they grow I invent new exercise classes for moms where the kids can be involved. I feel very blessed that I am able to take them to work with me and that it is something fun & healthy for them, too.

    All that being said, it is still WAY harder than I imagined. I never dreamed there would be so much paperwork involved, and the advertising time kills me as it is not something I particularly enjoy to begin with. I can definitely relate to the feeling that they are being ignored. After reading all of your helpful comments, I am now considering putting them in some sort of child-care… maybe only for 1 day a week as my business is fairly small and they can still come with me to the actual classes. This is something I was avoiding because it felt a little bit like failure, admitting that I can’t do it all. But your comments have helped me to see how it could be really beneficial to my kids! Thanks!

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